A Tale of Two Video Projects

March 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Image courtesy of suphakit73/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve gotten involved recently with two separate video projects and the two efforts couldn’t be farther apart in approach. The purposes are different and the end products need to accomplish separate things. There’s also two very different approval chains involved and that changes things dramatically.

The processes of these efforts, however, are the most different of them all and the most instructive about success and failure with a video project. One project has been multiple months in the discussion, planning, back and forth, delays and consultations. The end products are supposed to be extremely short teasers to provide a brief visual and an enticement to the readers to continue on with a text piece. It provides a welcome sense of the writers and a chance to associate names & personalities with their thinking. It should, frankly, be a slam dunk of an easy exercise to settle on a basic approach both technically and content-wise and get some samples in the can and ready for publication. And yet months later we’re still discussing.

On the other project, there was an almost passing request from a colleague to shoot some video for an online tool he’s developed. We arranged a day, I borrowed some equipment, and over the course of a single day we shot what turned into 35 short segments for him to add to the tool. In less than a week I had it all edited to his satisfaction and back over to him. I am by no means a cinematographer and these talking head pieces may not be the most brilliant ever, but we accomplished everything he needed to do in a very short space of time.

It’s no surprise which I consider the appropriate way to get a video together, but it’s not always possible. There are many good reasons to work by committee and often the final product needs the input of many people. There are certainly times when a professional quality videographer, a formal script and trained actors are necessary for the production to reach the level it needs to reach.

But there are also times when programs can overthink themselves into doing nothing. The old 80/20 rule, or the perfect being the enemy of the good really needs to come into play when projects get out of hand. A simple idea often needs a simple solution, even if it doesn’t entirely match expectations. The months spent on doing demos and passing them around and writing slide presentations would probably be better used cranking out short pieces and improving as we go.

As the cost curve on video production continues to bend in favor of cheaper, better video there’s no reason not to take the fast route through. If the end product is short and very targeted it’s really not worth the expense of very high end production when you get extremely good results with basic equipment and a decent understanding of basic videography. Get the lighting decent and the sound great and your average talking head video doesn’t need a ton of work. Even basic b-roll can be added with the same equipment, so why overexert yourself.

I’ve said numerous times during this process there’s a time and place for everything. Bring on the best when the best is needed, and bring on the good when it will do the trick in half the time and a tenth of the cost.

Image courtesy of suphakit73 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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External Factors Impact User Experience with Video

February 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Twice over the last two days I had the opportunity to leverage streaming content for some entertainment. Both times I faced streaming challenges, and it’s a reminder that no matter how good the content we develop, we’re often subject to external factors that can completely change how the end-user feels about our work.

I started out on Saturday with the DVR recording I made of the USA-Russia olympic hockey game. Thanks to my cable provider’s channel guide mistake, I got an extra 30 minutes of commentary that resulted in the recording cutting out in the middle of overtime. So I switched over to the laptop to load up the replay from nbcolympics.com. Plenty has been written about the business model behind the access to the content – if you haven’t heard, you only get access to the full scope of content if you have an existing cable/satellite provider. This of course shuts out many people who don’t have those services, and I’m not convinced that it’s a successful model to use.

Regardless of those issues, I do have a cable subscription and the results were horrible. I needed to catch up on the end of overtime and the shootout that followed – no more than about 10 minutes of video total. It’s safe to say I spent at least double that time waiting for the content to buffer and begin playing. I’d get a minute or two of playback followed by a long spell of buffering. If I had not been committed to seeing the end of the game I’d have given up within the first couple of minutes.

Sunday night was movie night with the kids (well, one of them – the other two refused to watch). We agreed on a movie and ordered it from Amazon video. And the movie loaded. And loaded and loaded. And still loading. And almost but not quite loaded. We gave it about 5 minutes before shutting down the TV and restarting to get it working. The rest of the playback was mostly OK with only some buffering, so overall the experience was pretty good.

The point of all this is that as a creator and manager of content, your users’ experience is dependent on a lot of things that you often can’t control. The issues I faced over the weekend could have occurred in a half dozen places along the path from provider to me. It could be a router somewhere along the internet, my internet connection or the connection between the device and my home router. But I understand the networking issues better than most users, especially as it applies to online video delivery. More importantly, I had an investment in the pieces I was trying to watch. I lived with the issues I experienced because I really wanted to see the video, and I never would have taken the time I did for something I was looking at casually.

As a content provider, you need to be aware of the possible problems with delivery. A lot of corporate video is, frankly, not must-watch video – will your users stick with it if they are facing streaming quality issues? There isn’t unfortunately a lot that can be done about downstream problems – it’s often a user by user situation and you can’t solve that problem for everyone.

You can, however, take certain steps on your own end – use a streaming service provider that has a robust network with multiple sourcing points and plenty of capacity. Contract with them for better service if you’re delivering a high profile live event. Encode your videos for optimum playback without overdoing the bitrates and video sizes – a smaller video that plays cleanly is better than a larger one that buffers constantly. You really, really have to spot check your content to see how it behaves, especially across multiple devices in multiple network situations. A hardwired connection will behave differently than over the air or wifi, iPhones will behave differently than PC desktops. Above all else, if you can possibly provide contact information alongside the video, you give users the chance to learn more even if the video fails for any reason – instead of definitely losing an opportunity, you’ll have the chance that they’ll reach out to you.

The problems with playback often have nothing to do with your work as the content provider, but the result is that you take the blame for it. They don’t say “oh, that lousy telecom and their service”, they say “this stupid company can’t figure out how to deliver a video?” It may not be fair, but the result is the same – your great content doesn’t appear, and sales and communication opportunities are lost. Do what you can to keep it working, and know when it’s not working so you can get it fixed as soon as possible.

Managing Risks in Video Content

January 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Day to day life in content production in my current industry involves a large amount of risk management. Every piece that works its way through the process is vetted for risky content—are we overstating the case? Are we mentioning private information that we shouldn’t? Are we using language that we shouldn’t use? It got me thinking about risk concerns during the creation and distribution of video – what are some of the things we need to think about?

Some industries are more risk-conscious than others. Consulting/Advisory (where I am now), Healthcare (where I’ve been), Financial Services/Banking (haven’t gotten to this one so far) are among the most risk-aware fields out there. A lot of this is driven by the extreme sensitivity of the information companies in these fields possess—critical proprietary business information, your private health information or your money. Some is driven by the need for consumer protection—government regulations abound to make sure the information these organizations hold is protected and safe from prying eyes and that companies do not make promises they can’t keep. 

If you’re in one of those industries, the safeguards on language and information are likely in place. It’s possible there’s a whole department with responsibility for making sure the videos you produce comply with regulations & company policies. As a producer you should be aware of the organization’s needs and anticipate the pitfalls. If you’re writing a script, think about the messages you’re delivering, and how they fit the company’s risk profile. You can save yourselves and the risk reviewers a lot of time and effort by keeping it front and center at every step of the way. Even if it’s not required, think about having the risk people review the script before you schedule recording—if you can spot potential issues ahead of time it can save messy re-shoots later.

If you’re interviewing people (as opposed to a scripted shoot) have a conversation with your talent before the camera rolls about the kinds of things to avoid. While it can get crowded and certainly take some of the energy out of an interview, consider having a risk-aware person in the room with you during the shoot to keep an ear out for risk problems. It may not be ideal from a production standpoint, but it can head off the kinds of problems that will force a re-shoot later to clean it up.

If you’re in another industry where the risk management effort gets less attention, it’s still good practice to think about these concerns. What kinds of language might reflect poorly on the organization? What statements might disturb or offend your key audiences? What private information—including proprietary to your company—should not be shared with a general audience? Even without a formal risk review process, your company’s leadership is likely to be concerned about what gets shared on video. If you can demonstrate to them an awareness and respect for this important consideration you’ll go a long way towards earning their trust to get the job done the right way.

A Video is Worth How Many Words?

December 10, 2013 1 comment

I ran across a statistic the other day in the course of working on a presentation about video. Reported in dozens of presentations, video clips and infographics is the remarkable idea that:

a minute of video is worth 1.8 million words

Try that google search and see if you get the same 38,000 hits I did. With almost no digging at all you’ll see it referencing both Forrester Research and one Dr. James McQuivey. (Who appears to be a very bright guy focusing on digital disruption and touching occasionally on the video space. Here on twitter if you want to know more: @jmcquivey)

It’s a wonderful statistic, and in a single line captures everything most of us want to say about video. It’s so much more powerful than words! You get more out of a minute of video than a book’s worth of text! How can you not do video when you get this kind of impact! Unfortunately there’s simultaneously a bit more and a lot less to this idea than meets the eye.

I wasn’t about to quote such a statistic without understanding the source and the meaning behind it, so I started to dig a little deeper. I am fortunate to have access to Forrester reports, and a few minutes digging turned up a report by Dr. McQuivey from June of 2008 on “How Video Will Take Over the World.” It’s a fine report, and made some smart predictions about the future and some that turned out to be overstated – risks you take when you attempt predictions. And there, in a small paragraph about the next step in human communications being video (a point I agree with, incidentally), is the line leading to the stat. In full, the report states

Now it’s video’s turn because if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a minute of video is 1.8 million words

And then the kicker – following immediately is a hyperlink saying see endnote 2.

Reading endnote 2 tells you that Dr. M did some basic math. A second of video contains 30 frames; a minute of video therefore contains 1800 pictures; ergo, at a picture = 1,000 words, one minute of video = (1800 pics X 1000 words) 1.8 million words.

All due respect to the fine folks at Forrester and Dr. McQuivey, this is how rumors get started and information gets misunderstood and misused. I suspect that this was not intended to be a formal statistic; the old “picture is worth a thousand words” is an aphorism, a popular saying but by no means a statistical truth. I don’t even think the report was trying to be too clever, I think it was just attempting to explain the power of video as an easy to grasp concept.

This is the “less” part I uncovered – you can’t really say that video is equivalent to X number of words since that number is entirely arbitrary. If you shoot at 24 frames per second, or 60, the number changes. Is video simultaneously worth more than 1.44 million, 1.8 million, 3.6 million words?  More significantly, one minute of bad video is considerably worse than dozens of pages of critical textual information, regardless of the general impact of video as a medium. Video may be powerful, but it’s very dependent on doing a good job of creating it.

On the “more” side the essential truth of the statement is that video is an extremely powerful delivery medium, and often provides opportunities to share ideas more efficiently than text can. Leveraging the power of video to deliver messages, sell products and services and build communities is a key responsibility for all organizations. Consumption is extremely high and likely to continue growing, and it’s imperative that a successful enterprise make the most of the opportunities video can drive.

So be careful of statistics and how you use them. To paraphrase a great sage, “Why you keep using that statistic? I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Storytelling Trumps Video Length

November 21, 2013 Leave a comment

A question that comes up a lot is “how long should a web video be?” I’ve talked about it before and the answer should be “as long as it needs to be to tell the story you want to tell.” Apple demonstrates beautifully how you can engage people in a story about your products over a very long period by web standards:

10 minutes is a long time, especially in today’s ADD-infected online world. While the key is to hook people within the first 30 seconds or so (earlier by some people’s estimates), if you tell a compelling story, they’ll stick with you. Apple of course has built up enough credit in the marketplace that they’ll get attention where others might not. But you don’t have to be at their level to develop a great story and deliver it to your users & customers.

The vibe they chose to accentuate here is about the power of their product to help people. In today’s cultural climate, that’s a powerful message likely to resonate with a lot of users. Apple doesn’t need to use a message like this to sell people on their products, as in a lot of ways they all but sell themselves. So a message like this helps to position the company in areas that matter to their customers, and that builds goodwill and a positive image for the organization. And they took a very sizable chunk of time to tell that story, and they did it well. You can learn from what they did, and take the time to tell your story.

H/T to ReelSEO.com for the link (@reelseo)

53% of all Traffic is Video! Now What?

November 12, 2013 Leave a comment

There’s some buzz going around, especially on Twitter, that video now makes up over 50% of all traffic on the web. Here’s one story from the Hollywood Reporter:

Video Accounts for 53 Percent of Internet Traffic

Broadly speaking I think this is a Good Thing as video continues to play a larger role in people’s lives and online experiences. But the underlying question for producers remains Now What? What do we as the creators of content, particularly in the enterprise space, do with that information? More importantly, what do we do about it?

It’s wonderful if you’re Netflix or YouTube – you’ve got a large share of a growing market and as long as you continue to make key content acquisitions you’re likely to remain in good shape for the near term. But as I’ve written regarding Cisco’s predictions on the impact of video, more data is not necessarily more important data. From the enterprise perspective, you still need to direct resources and effort towards what drives the organization’s bottom line. You are facing more competition from many more sources, and it can make getting heard a lot harder.

Fortunately, the goals of the enterprise are often a lot narrower than reaching billions of potential viewers. I’ve mentioned before that you want the right viewers – those in a position to make a purchase, offer a donation or any of the other reasons your organization is in business. The additional competition means you will have to work harder to develop a message that resonates with your audience, and keeping that audience central in your production process is more critical than ever.

The “Now What?” question is answered by reviewing every production carefully in light of the greater challenges to attracting viewers. Have I made my point clearly enough? Are the first 10 seconds of the video deeply engaging so I keep viewers attention? Are my calls to action clear and obvious? Am I sharing the video in the places where my key decision makers can be found? Have I enabled social tools around the piece to allow conversations to happen? Is anyone monitoring and interacting with those social spaces?

You should ask these questions in any event, but they become a lot more important as the level of noise increases. We all want to make great video, and this kind of strategic thinking is a big part of it. We can create award-winning pieces, but if our key constituents don’t see them, it’s impossible to see them as successful efforts.

Monetization for Corporate Video

November 5, 2013 Leave a comment

An enormous amount of discussion takes place across the web on the issue of monetization of video. The concern is that producers are putting a lot of effort and at least some money into developing their video content and getting their creative vision down in pixels – now how do you make money off that effort? The answers can vary, but for the most part they focus on the video community – create your story, find a way to sell it or advertising around it so that you can profit.

As important as this topic is, for the enterprise producer the calculus is noticeably different. Generally speaking you’re not looking to sell a series of corporate pieces to Netflix, Amazon or Hulu; you probably are not interested in selling advertising for other products as a pre- or mid-roll to your product demo. In fact, the video itself is unlikely to be a moneymaker on its own, and it’s probably not intended to do so.

At the end of the day, a corporate video is designed to sell the products or services of the company. Your video is intended to lead viewers on to a purchasing decision, but it’s unlikely that the video will be the sole driver of that revenue. More often the video will be a form of lead generation for the organization’s sales team – a video view will translate into a sales contact which hopefully becomes a finalized sale. On the plus side, this takes a lot of pressure off the video producer – there’s no expectation that noticeable revenue will be driven by the video itself. You don’t have to get nervous about getting picked up by a large streaming provider, a YouTube syndicator, or draw large numbers of ad impressions.

On the challenge side, this means it can be harder to point to the video as a revenue generator instead of a cost center. If the sale does not depend on the video, how can you demonstrate to management that the video department is driving revenue? It’s not a simple question to answer, but the two most important steps to manage are calls to action and metrics. By adding direct calls to action within the video, you can ensure that the video provides an immediate opportunity to connect with the company and its experts. If you’re doing a piece involving a subject matter expert (SME) from the organization, be sure there’s easy connectivity to reach that SME directly. Metrics always provide understanding of the success of a video, and they can be useful as an indicator that your message is reaching the key audiences.

One critical step here is to be sure to take advantage of URL techniques that can help tell you where your users are coming from. Tagging and tracking codes within URLs can provide very specific feedback on the source of the click – an email campaign, a particular webpage, and of course from within a video page. If you’re not familiar with the coding on the URL, work with your web development teams to create URLs that will help indicate that a user reached out to your organization after watching one of your video pieces.

In the end video for most organizations is a means to an end, but there are still key steps you can take to make sure your efforts are helping drive revenue.

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